Monday, March 30, 2009

NLRB issues preliminary ruling on charges*

Officials at the regional National Labor Relations Board have filed a Motion for Default Judgment against the Press-Telegram over our charges that the newspaper violated federal labor laws in March 2008 by moving P-T Guild members to the non-union Daily Breeze and laying off others.

In filing the motion, the Region 21 counsel calls for the NLRB to find in favor of the Guild on all counts.

The counsel said in the motion that because the P-T did not "file an answer within the time and in the manner prescribed by the [National Labor Relations] Board's Rules and Regulations, all allegations in the complaint shall be deemed to be true and have been so found by the Board."

If the Region 21 motion goes forward, the decision includes a list of possible remedies, including (but not limited to) back pay and benefits, plus interest, for the employees laid off by the company. Transferred employees could receive compensation for any wages and/or other benefits lost to them as a result of their transfer.

Responding to the Board's decision, the company filed a request to extend the deadline. According to the company's request, their failure to respond was the Guild's fault, and the company should not suffer any consequences for ignoring the numerous notices and letters issued by the board over the last several months.

In January of this year, the P-T received an order that consolidated the Guild’s cases and a copy of the consolidated complaint along with the hearing date notice. Then in February the NLRB sent yet another copy of the complaint to the P-T. When the company continued to ignore NLRB requests, the board informed the P-T on Feb. 24 that "it had 7 days to file an answer, and failure to do so would result in a filing for default judgment."

The P-T repeatedly failed to answer the "consolidated complaints" as required by the NLRB’s Rules and Regulations, even when notified of the legal necessity for filing a timely answer. (The company was served notice of the Guild's first NLRB charges in August 2008 and again in September 2008. It also received copies of amended charges, first in October of last year and then again in November.)

On March 26, the company filed a request for a deadline extension. In the filing, the company argues to the NLRB that both parties had reached an "agreement in principle" on all charges and that is why, it alleges, it did not respond to the NLRB complaints. (Late February was the final deadline for the company to respond however, so the company would have already received the notice of an imminent decision by the Board.)

P-T management and Guild officials had a brief conversation earlier this year in which they discussed that all affected persons should be "made whole" - but details had not been worked out. The Guild conducted a survey of the workers impacted by the March 2008 layoffs and transfers to help it determine what a reasonable settlement should look like.

The Guild has not received a written settlement offer from the P-T.

The five-member panel at the NLRB in Washington, D.C. will now have to vote on the Region 21 motion, however the board currently has only two sitting members, one a recent Obama Administration appointee and the other a Republican holdover from the previous administration. This fails to meet the board's required three-member quorum to hold a vote. Like many federal boards, the NLRB panel is required to be made of no more than three members of the majority party. Due to the quorum rule, a vote on the Region 21 motion will have to wait until President Obama appoints at least one more member.

*UPDATE: 04/04/09* - The Employer has agreed to provide a written proposal for a settlement to the Guild.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A way to (non)profits?

Since last year, we've been reporting on the rise in nonprofit news ventures. Now, one U.S. senator is trying to make that option a little easier.

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), has introduced a bill to allow newspapers to restructure into nonprofit organizations.

This effort, which currently has no co-sponsors, gives newspapers the option to "operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies," according to the Reuters article.

This seems like a no brainer. NPR and PBS offer valuable coverage that's often not available from traditional profit-driven media. But their small-scale coverage - local and community news - is virtually nonexistent. Cardin's bill would enable community papers to complement other nonprofit media outlets, and ensure that our right to information is not capriciously wiped out.

And in the abstract, widespread nonprofit community newspapers might hold the key to reinventing journalism as we know it.

We are unabashedly optimistic about print journalism. Not because we believe that the printed page is essential - but because people will always care about the mundane, day-to-day events that shape their lives. More often than not, local newspapers have the operational resources to get the story faster and more efficiently, and it on a larger scale, than anyone else in town.

But newsrooms have been under attack for decades, a slow erosion based on a business model that believes readers are the product, and advertisers are the customer. Content and news are just a means to an end.

Nonprofit newspapers, dedicated to providing earnest, quality journalism could undo all that. If nonprofit news gains market share, it could re-establish the primacy of content, and provide a total rebuke to the argument that one-size-fits-all, shared content is good enough for readers.

Still, it's unclear how viable nonprofit status is for papers like the Press-Telegram or the Daily News. There are requirements that would significantly impact the owner and debt structure of MediaNews, and there's virtually no reason to believe the company would consider the idea.

A digital copy of the bill can be found here.

What do you think? Is local news important enough to save? If you support community news and want to help protect the future of journalism, contact your state senator and ask for their support on this issue.

Barbara Boxer can be reached here or at (213) 894-5000.

Diane Feinstein can be reached here or at (310) 914-7300 .

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Denver slashes in Rocky's wake

The MediaNews Group-owned Denver Newspaper Agency, which provides non-newsroom services for the Denver Post, fired 40 people on Friday and is set to let another 160 people go in the coming weeks, according to the Denver Business Journal.

The DNA, which was created to consolidate business services for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, had been expected to slash its staff following the demise of the Rocky last month. Former LANG head and current DNA president and CEO Gerald Grilly said that the cuts will help DNA "shape a new business model' to adapt to "new market realities."

“We are not just ink on paper anymore," said Grilly about the cuts. "We are true information providers across many platforms."

There is certainly increased competition, and responding to the challenges of the digital era is the biggest obstacle facing newspapers today. But this attitude might come as a surprise to many LANG employees - especially all of the online and "new" media staff that have been slashed throughout MediaNews over the past several years. There has yet to be a cogent argument that justifies trimming resources and reducing the core business at a time of increased competition. Yet the industry response to new challenges has always been to retreat, regroup, and far too often, surrender. We can only hope that any new business strategy not only recognizes the importance of reducing costs, but the value in strengthening the product and the newsrooms that produce it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No news is...good news?

News organizations are fond of defending free speech and the importance of keeping the public informed. MediaNews is no different - unless that news is about the company itself.

In a move reminiscent of the MNG decision to cease filing financial reports with federal regulators, the company has asked Standard & Poor's to withdraw all credit ratings for the company.

The request is presumably a reaction to news that the company's credit rating has been cut yet again, from CCC+ to CCC, a rating that indicates "high default risk" investments.

The upshot, if there is one, will be that the company might stave off further bad news that would presumably deepen the tarnish that has engulfed the company for the better part of a decade. But is no news really good news? Does it matter that S&P will no longer report on MNG's steady slide down the credit ratings ladder until the company is now hanging at nearly the bottom rung with its legs flailing over a bottomless chasm?

The more likely reality is that the further MNG retreats into solipsism and isolation, the more distorted and unclear the truth will become to those attempting to plan their way out of this mess. And that same enigmatic shroud will also hinder any other entity that might consider reaching down to MNG with a deal that would help them back up the ladder.

Perhaps it's painfully naive, but taking an honest account of the situation, warts and all, might be for the best. And honestly, right now Singleton and company can't afford to make it harder for anyone that wants to bring back the days when company news is a source of pride.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MediaNews rating drops...again

As if Dean Singleton does not have enough worries just finding enough advertising, now Standard & Poor's is on his back yet again.

MediaNews has taken another hit at the hands of the credit agency, sinking further into the morass of junk status. This time he's not alone--the Orange County Register had their rating downgraded too.

S&P cited steeply declining cash flow as a main reason for the decision. This can only mean that Singleton and his crew will be looking for ways to cut costs even further. Given that the Press-Telegram has a year moratorium on Guild layoffs and the Daily News has just gone through another round of cuts, there are only a few other pins on the SoCal LANG map for the company to look at.

MediaNews' Jim Janiga however offered some "reassuring" words recently, telling Daily News bargaining committee members that he could not "see us operating with fewer people."

Singleton had some thoughts to share recently on the situation at the Hearst-owned and Guild-represented San Francisco Chronicle, which reportedly lost more than $50 million last year. For some reason, he thinks it would be a "good idea" if the federal government waived anti-trust restriction and let all the Bay Area papers be owned by one company. Any guesses which company he would vote for?

U-T finds buyer

In other industry news, the San Diego Union-Tribune, on the selling block since July, has found a buyer in Beverly Hills-based private equity firm Platinum Equity. U-T watchers expect that the paper is likely to suffer serious cuts after the takeover and see many of its assets sold off, including a portfolio of more than $100 million of San Diego-area real estate. While details of the transaction were not revealed, U-T owner Copley reportedly sold the U-T for $20 million to $50 million, a fraction of its likely asset value.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Return the favor

I'm sure most of us remember seeing members from the other CWA units rallying beside us over the last two years. They were at nearly every event, carrying signs and helping out as much as possible.

Now we have the chance to return the favor.

The Verizon unit's contract will be up for negotiation soon, and it's shaping up to be a tough fight. The Verizon unit is holding a "Countdown to Negotiations" rally tomorrow, Fri. March 13th, in front of the Verizon offices at 200 Ocean Blvd, from 11 to 2 pm.

I know it would mean a lot to the Verizon team if some of our members showed up. Some of the Press-Telegram folks have already volunteered to to attend, but if anyone else has a few minutes to spare, stop by and say hello!

Thanks, and we'll see you there!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Around the Guild and beyond, briefly

NoCal Guild votes Thursday (March 12) on contract changes that may keep the SF Chronicle publishing – California Media Workers Guild

Sacramento Bee cuts 11% of its staff, Modesto Bee staff agrees to wage reductions. Agreements made to stave off job cuts – McClatchy Bee Bulletin

Round-up of negotiations and news in Seattle –

Final days for the Seattle P-I? – The Stranger

Is I-News old news?

Big Labor and Big Business meet today on Capitol Hill as the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act begins in earnest this week– Three testify before the Senate: "This is a fairness issue. The system of employee-employer relations is fundamentally lopsided. There’s a need to level the playing field, to redress a great imbalance. When a system is in such fundamental imbalance, it is our obligation on both sides of the aisle to remedy that."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Final Edition

A member asked us to share the following with everyone.

How is it relevant you ask? We all talk in the newsroom and are convinced that the paper won't be around.

Regina Combs at Poynter Online tells the story behind Final Edition, a somber look back at the loss of yet another civic institution.

Although no one needs to be reminded just what's at stake, and just how badly things can get, it just might be essential to be remember that a newspaper is more than simply a business.

"I'll tell you what. If you take out our paper, people will not be informed any more. And an uninformed society breeds a lot of social evils."

Feds subsidize COBRA coverage for recently laid off

According to the Department of Labor, the recently-signed economic stimulus package has provisions that should be of interest to many Americans.

Under the new rules, employees who are laid off between Sept. 1, 2008 and the end of 2009 will be eligible for subsidized medical coverage from the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) program. March is first month of the subsidy program.

Individuals eligible for COBRA coverage who were involuntarily terminated by their employer on or after September 1, 2008 through December 31, 2009 who are eligible for COBRA and elect COBRA may be eligible to pay a reduced premium amount that is only 35% of the premium costs for your COBRA coverage.
Laid off employees who have not yet signed up for COBRA have a 60-day window to apply, starting from the date they receive notification of eligibility. Employees that have already waived their COBRA coverage may revoke their waiver before the end of the 60-day period.

More information is available at the Employee Benefits Security Administration's COBRA continuation page.